When it comes to foreign policy, the eight Republicans who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the 113th Congress are all over the map — a microcosm, in many ways, of today’s fragmented GOP.
As Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the committee, observed this week, “We’ve got everything from highly engaged internationalists to realists on the committee, and . . . there’s different degrees of that” realism.
Corker argues that such a range is not necessarily a problem, predicting that the strong and diverse viewpoints on his side of the dais will reinvigorate a panel that has grown increasingly marginalized on Capitol Hill in recent years. But the diversity of views also risks creating more dysfunction, with committee infighting bogging down the legislative agenda, including some members’ aim of restarting the State Department authorization process.
The sheer variety of Republican opinion on today’s hot-button international issues was on display last week at two high-profile committee hearings.
Corker attempted to focus on the big picture out of the militant attack in Benghazi, Libya, at the panel’s Jan. 23 hearing with departing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I think this is an opportunity for us to examine the systemic failures” of the State Department, he said in his opening remarks, as well as “to develop a foreign policy that reflects again the dynamics of the region as they really are today.”
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of four new Republicans on the committee, took the opposite tack, zeroing in on exactly when the State Department spoke to the evacuees from the U.S. compound in Benghazi and why that hadn’t been done sooner.
“A simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest,” Johnson told Clinton, rehashing a recurring GOP attack on the Obama administration, which initially asserted that the attack emerged from local protests against an anti-Muslim video.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., used his first appearance on the committee to question whether the State Department is even “capable of being in a war zone” at all. And he peppered his remarks with specific dollar figures to emphasize the costs of various State Department programs. “Maybe you’re not aware,” Paul told Clinton, “that your department spent $100,000 on three comedians who went to India on a promotional tour called ‘Make Chai Not War.’ ”
The next day, at Sen. John Kerry’s confirmation hearing to be secretary of State, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pushed for a different approach, chiding the Obama administration for not being more engaged in Libya after the fall of longtime dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, which he claimed was at the root of the Benghazi attack.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.